Today, Illinois Representatives Greg Harris, Deborah Mell and Kelly Cassidy introduced HB5172 The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. If passed, the bill would create equal marriage rights for all of the people of Illinois, regardless of sexual orientation. This bill comes one day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that California’s Prop 8 is unconstitutional. According to the Appeals Court, Prop 8, which eliminated the existing rights of same-sex couples to marry in California, is based purely on animus toward the gay and lesbian population and serves no legitimate state interest. The 9th Circuit found that there is no rational basis for the discriminatory law.
The Illinois Legislature is now starting down the path toward giving same-sex couples full marriage equality. This bill has a long way to go before it becomes law, and Illinois has barely had time to adjust to civil unions, which haven’t even celebrated their first anniversary. And there is also a movement to amend the Illinois constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Although quick passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act seems unlikely, certain trends are going in the right direction. Same-sex marriage in New York has already increased the number of Americans living in jurisdictions where same-sex couples are allowed to marry. If the Prop 8 ruling stands, the percentage of Americans living in jurisdictions that recognize marriage equality will increase dramatically once again. Adding Illinois, the fifth largest state, to the list would be another important boost for marriage equality. The more available same-sex marriage becomes to more Americans, the more it becomes just another part of society.
It is important to remember that right now same-sex couples live under a patchwork of different levels of recognition of their relationships. Take a single same-sex couple married in Iowa. Depending on where in the U.S. the couple is at any given time, the state they are in might consider them married, in a civil union, in a domestic partnership, in a legally recognized lesser relationship, in a recognized relationship that is not available in the state, or legal strangers. And if the couple happens to be in California, their current legal relationship is still unclear while yesterday’s ruling is appealed. Imagine the chaos if all marriages in the U.S. existed under a similar legal regime.
In order to protect their rights, same-sex couples currently have to be especially diligent about planning for their legal needs and the recognition of their relationships. Civil unions provide many protections, but there are still gaps and uncertainties, especially beyond the Illinois border. Legal agreements, powers of attorney and contracts can help lessen the disparity between the rights of same-sex and opposite-sex couples. But it is only fully recognized marriage rights in every state that will ultimately solve these legal issues and allow same-sex couples to put less energy into protecting their rights and more energy into their families and communities. Today, thanks to Representatives Greg Harris, Deborah Mell and Kelly Cassidy, Illinois takes another important step in that direction.